We have begun a collection of communication devotionals, about 450-500 words each. There is one week’s worth of samples attached from Quentin Schultze, Tim Muehlhoff, Greg Spencer, Bill Strom, Paul Creasman, Elizabeth McLaughlin, and Paul Patton. If you have questions, please contact [email protected] NOT FOR DISTRIBUTION
Smurf-blue Pride and the Power of Forgiveness
Fools mock at making amends for sin, but goodwill is found among the upright. (Proverbs 14: 9-10)
The 10 year-old boy visiting our home that day was bored so my wife let him play in the pool room. He was thrilled. His mother soon noticed him touching the cue stick tip and asked him to stop. He removed his hand, declaring, “I’m not touching it!” She caught him again, same result.
“Look at the tip of that cue stick,” my wife winked. Blue chalk. If you aren’t touching it, your hand should be clean, right?” The boy slowly opened his hand to a Smurf-blue palm. He froze. Made no comment. Never did.\
Oily hands on a cue tip is no big deal; the larger problem was the boy’s stubborness to admit his fault. Even when caught blue-handed he refused to come clean.
Research supports that pride is a significant road block to admitting our guilt, or even thinking we need forgiveness. People who measure high on “narcissistic entitlement” think they’ve done no wrong, question if apologizing is even necessary, and refuse to accept forgiveness from others. The proverbs writer thinks it’s foolish not to make amends for our sins and ignore how they hurt others.
We’ve all met people like this, who refuse with crossed arms to deal with sin in their life. “I’ve done nothing wrong!” they say. Pride makes it hard to admit and confess our sin. A foolish person continues with crossed arms believing they don’t need forgiveness.
Forgiving takes place in several ways:
(1) We can forgive ourselves for dumb stuff we do; this mental forgiveness helps change our self-talk and self-feelings;
(2) We can ask God to forgive us for specific blunders, and God is waiting to forgive; (3) we can forgive friends and family for their wrong-doing, and apologize for our negative attitude toward them. This allows relationships to flourish rather than get bogged down in past wrongs.
Okay, it’s Smurf-blue gut check time. What’s the color of your palm?
Reflection: how is pride getting in my way of forgiveness? Where is “narcissistic entitlement” present in my own life?
Today’s Challenge: find someone who needs to hear your remorse for bad choices. Come clean for dumb stuff you’ve done. Allow the power of forgiveness to restore your relationships. God forgives us. We can follow his lead in forgiving ourselves and others too.
–Bill Strom, Trinity Western University
Be this Kind of Fool, not that Kind of Fool
Now then, my sons, listen to me; pay attention to what I say. (Proverbs 14: 9-10)
After 29 years living in a cave, sixth century Saint Symeon returned to the town of Emesa with a bang. He found a dead dog, tied its leg to a rope around his waist, and dragged it through town to make a point about how the rich carry similar loads. Next morning he entered the church, blew out the candles, and threw nuts at the women. On his way out, he overturned the pastry chef tables. Sounds like Jesus’ table-turning on his way to Jerusalem, right? (Matt. 21:12).
Haters called Symeon a fool, an unholy scandal. But what they failed to understand was his prophetic social critique and mockery of their own hypocritical, self-centered behavior.
Saint Symeon isn’t the fool Proverbs has in mind, though. In fact there’s a long tradition of Symeons in the Old Testament, including Ezekiel with his dung-stained “street theater” and Isaiah with his nudity. So, if you’re dead set on being a fool, then at least be a “holy fool” like Symeon.
Who is the Proverbs fool? He’s one who lacks discipline and hates correction, whose self-centeredness blocks him from deeper truth. He is a poor listener—someone in serious need of Bad Listener’s Anonymous, although he’ll surely never admit he has a problem or attend a meeting.
Here’s the fool’s addiction: he listens mainly for himself and with himself in mind. He practices selective attention, listening mainly to what gives him pleasure or meets his own needs. He listens egocentrically, seeing himself as the central concern in every conversation; redirecting conversations to his own problems. He listens defensively, acting threatened and assuming others’ comments are veiled criticisms.
Wise communicators recognize that listening is possibly more powerful than talking, although extremely difficult to do. They remind us that “the first duty of love is to listen.”
Reflection: in what ways do I listen like a fool? Practice selective attention, egocentric and defensive listening?
Today’s challenge: don’t just wait for your turn to talk, but really listen. Listen more than you talk to others. When you must talk, show restraint. Avoid re-directing focus to you. Be other-centered in your communication.
-Paul Patton, Spring Arbor University
Getting to the Heart of the Matter
There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death. (Proverbs 16:25)
Headline: “British doctors perform heart transplant against wishes of girl.” The Associated Press article tells of a fifteen-year-old girl in England who refused a life-saving heart-transplant operation. Family, friends, and onlookers were shocked. “I don’t want to die, but I would rather die than have the transplant and have someone else’s heart,” she explained. The article ends with the court’s decision to force the operation.
What’s missing from this story is the crucial question of “Why?” The girls’ response above is unsettling, unsatisfying. Why’s this girl, with her whole life ahead of her, choosing certain death?
When someone we care about holds views we don’t share, we often respond defensively rather than pursuing further conversation. So, your spouse thinks sending your daughter to a private Christian school is “over protective.” In-laws suggest your parenting style produces undisciplined children. A non-Christian co-worker says Christians are judgmental and no one has the right to judge others. In each case, the message is clear: you are wrong! You are getting the transplant! Case closed. Tensions escalate.
When discussing differences in the heat of the moment, the key mistake is this: we give our bottom-line convictions, not the back-story of how those convictions developed. We only trade final destinations, not the journey taken to arrive at our position. We forget that for each person, there is a way that seems right to him or her.
Perhaps the most important part of a conversation is when we resist the urge to prove how wrong someone’s position is, but first seek to engage in perspective-taking—to see the world from a different point of view; to uncover why this particular way seems right to her.
Questions for reflection: In disagreements, how often do I merely trade conclusions? Do I seek to understand the backstory of a person’s beliefs, or merely rush to present my own views?
Today’s challenge: Find someone who holds a different view from your own. Avoid sharing your bottom line conviction. Ask questions about how he arrived at his belief. Learn about the experiences that shaped his thinking.
–Tim Muehlhoff, Biola University
Speak Only if You Can Improve Upon the Silence
The one who has knowledge uses words with restraint, and whoever has understanding is even-tempered (Proverbs 17:27)
Yale University graduate Greg Hindy set out on a coast-to-coast silent walking trip with camera in hand. Psychologist Carl Hindy supported his son’s mission. “Most of us are identity adopters,” he said, “but Greg is an identity former.” Critics called it a gimmick. Hindy a “modern-day Forrest Gump.”
Silence is often viewed negatively as a weakness, an absence, even a weapon. Yet silence also carries deep meaning and constructive power.
Monks take vows of silence. Why? Is silence better than speech? Is there anything fundamentally wrong with speech?
When busily talking, we can’t get to know others’ hopes and fears. We can’t love them because we fail to truly know and serve them. Mutual listening is foreplay for intimate relationships where we learn to caress others in our minds and hearts. To inch toward being one with them.
Perhaps silence isn’t as empty as we think. Maybe it speaks as a mysterious heart language that helps us hear our own thoughts. Who am I? Whose am I? Maybe we fear silence because we fear ourselves?
What if silence is always important because someone has already spoken, long or shortly before we open our mouths and move our lips? The Creator of the universe “speaks” through the creation. Could we even identify let alone understand that “speech” if we are noisy rather than silent?
Strange possibility: in high-tech societies we are becoming media-rich and relationship-poor. We are noise-oppressed. Silence-deprived. Love-challenged. Spiritually shallow beings in a darkening sea with rising tides. Do the words “I love you” mean much today?
We may not follow Greg Hindy’s lead, but perhaps we can learn from the monastics how to regain the love in silence, to speak only if we can improve upon the silence. Maybe such silence equips us for tasting heaven on earth, with open hearts to hear beyond our own words.
Reflection: Does my speaking improve the silence? What would others say? Am I aware of my motivations when speaking?
Today’s challenge: take a vow of silence for one hour, half or full day. Choose to speak only when you can improve the silence. Take notes.
-Quentin Schultze, Calvin University
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom . . . (Proverbs 9:10).
At a recent worship service the pastor told the congregation, “you’re about to enter into the presence of deity.” They audibly gasped. The glorious expressions on worshipers’ faces revealed their deep longing for the supernatural. For something sacred and transcendent.
Then it happened. The holy one descended. Spontaneous screams of joy erupted. The object of adoration, the Handsomest Man Alive, walked in, greeted the talk-show host, and sat just to her right. Women in the audience swooned as the actor signed a movie prop and handed it to a trembling soul before him. Such reverence! Such a shame.
When we aren’t worshipping celebrities, we’re applauding their shockingly irreverent behavior. Simultaneously, we water down words like “awesome,” using it to describe everything from God to toilet paper. Overall, we seem less awed today—or, at least not by much of anything beyond the latest technological innovation. And, even then, only for about 18 months until the next gadget or upgrade is released.
Has our recognition of “the sacred” actually faded, or are we just searching for transcendence in different, more secular places?
The “Fear of the Lord” includes reverent awe, or a sense of inspired wonder. Reverence combines both thought and action. It is, in faith, kneeling before the sacred and standing up to the profane.
The reverent train themselves to see God’s Spirt and his handiwork. They know the sacred when they see it; it is that in which God is found. In short, they recognize that “there is something sacred in every moment.”
Sometimes the sacred is found through searching; other times it crashes upon us unannounced. Either way, reverence increases as we cultivate eyes and ears for the God who is among us.
At the same time, the reverent heart is broken by things that break God’s heart. A reverent nose for the profane sniffs out what smells to high heaven and resists it. Of course, not everything that stinks is offensive to God. But when the sacred is violated in ways that grieve God, the reverent take a stand. They shed the light and speak the truth.
Lights, camera, action. Enter the deity. Cue audible gasps. What stands before you? The sacred or profane?
Reflection: What is the condition of my kneeling before the sacred? What in the world do I consider profane?
Today’s Challenge: read a passage of Scripture aloud several times in different ways (sadly, gleefully, sternly, passionately). Then read it as if your Bible will be taken away forever. Record your thoughts.
–Gregory Spencer, Westmont College
Walk Tall and Carry a Gentle Stick
1A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. 2 The tongue of the wise adorns knowledge, but the mouth of the fool gushes folly. (Proverbs 15:1-2)
In 2009, Republican Mark DeMoss and Democrat Lanny Davis founded the Civility Project. They asked national politicians to sign a pledge: “I will be civil in my conduct. Respectful with others who disagree on issues. Call out incivility when I see it.” The project closed in 2011. Only three had signed.
Do any of these sound familiar? “You are a racist, sexist, homophobic, anti-Semitic biggot!” “Those people deserve the treatment they get!” “That politician couldn’t tell the truth even if it bit her in the *#@&!.” “Let’s just go ahead and nuke the *#@&!”
Does it have to be this way?
It’s far too easy to bathe in the public sewer of incivility. We chuckle at nasty comments in social media or add our own clever remarks to others’ jabs. Other times we remain silent when we should engage in important conversations. We’re afraid to be labeled or bullied, online or in person.
Being profane seems easier for most than being profound, or commending knowledge gently.
Proverbs 15:1-2 dares us to check closely the words from our lips, pens, and keyboards. To consider how we stir up anger or gush folly. It also challenges our silences when advocacy for others or the sacred is timely. It spurs us to ask, “how do I react when people disagree with me?” And “does my communication evaporate resentment and enhance learning”?
Offering a gentle answer born from wisdom flows from the person we are and the words we choose. Christ dealt with enemies directly, simply, truthfully. This is a good place to begin. Whether the Pharisee, tax collector, or sexually loose woman, Jesus listened closely.
Answered real questions. Challenged with truth. And called sinners to be friends and disciples.
Time to sign your own Civility Project pledge – what say you?
Reflection: does my communication escalate tensions or promote calm and rational judgment? Am I civil and respectful toward individuals I dislike or disagree with?
Today’s challenge: find a comment aimed at you or others that is nasty or hurtful, or something you disagree with. Prepare a civil response that turns away wrath and increases knowledge. Send it.
-Elizabeth McLaughlin, Bethel College
Better Watch Out! Santa Claus is Coming to Punch You In the Face
“A patient man has great understanding, but a quick tempered man displays folly.”
In 325 A.D., bishops of the early Christian Church gathered to settle several pressing theological issues. The gathering—the Council of Nicaea—included were several notables including Nicholas of Myra, now called Saint Nicholas, or Santa Claus.
One issue before the Council was the nature of Christ. Was He fully God? Fully man? The deliberations were intense. At one point, Arius suggested that Christ was not God. If Christ was indeed the “son of God,” he reasoned, then there had to be a time when Jesus did not exist, making him less than eternal, less than God.
What happened next is a matter of historical debate.
Folk tales and church paintings tell us that Nicholas—that’s right, old Saint Nick—incensed at what he was hearing, rose and punched Arius in the face. Some representations of the event are a bit kinder. They show St. Nick merely slapping Arius on the back of the head, as if to say, “What are you thinking?” Arius was eventually branded a heretic but Nicholas apparently got off scot-free.
What do we do when faced with ideas that challenge our most strongly held beliefs? Do our tempers get the best of us? In these moments, few of us would likely ever consider physically assaulting our opponents, but we can still cause harm, “punching” in other ways: (1) cutting others off, (2) raising our voices, (3) failing to listen, or (4) tweeting an angry response—also known as the “virtual jab.”
The pace of modern life strains communication by encouraging a quick response. Technology teaches that we must react immediately, without deliberation. In the face of this tyranny of the now, Proverbs encourages the opposite. It says that patience breeds listening, brings about dialogue, deepens understanding, and slows our anger. Anger, James notes, “does not bring about the righteous life God desires” (1:20).
You might not face the heresy of Arius, but you likely encounter other moments that challenge biblical truth and make you want to punch out loud. What will your response be?
Reflection: What are your ‘hot-buttons’? What issues are likely to ‘set you off’? How have you reacted in the past to ideas that challenge your core beliefs? Have you used social media in a way that you regretted?
Today’s Challenge: Listen closely to others before you speak. Try to discern not just others’ beliefs and values, but why they hold them. Monitor your own communication during confrontations. Instead of using technology or social media, have a conversation face-to-face.
-Paul Creasman, Arizona Christian University